The Official Voice of Vietnam Veterans of America, Inc. ®
An organization chartered by the U.S. Congress
December 2004
FEATURE
 
 

Brooks Brothers
Not Just Another Veterans Day Sale
 

BY JIM BELSHAW

In May, Mokie Porter, the editor of The VVA Veteran, went shopping at a Brooks Brothers store in Chevy Chase, Maryland. Six months later, that shopping trip led to Brooks Brothers holding a Veterans Day sales event that raised $3,100 for VVA's Vietnam Veterans Assistance Fund (VVAF). It all began with a conversation between a salesman and a customer. It culminated in VVAF and one of America's best-known and respected business names working toward the same goal--putting the veteran back in Veterans Day.

The conversation with Brooks Brothers' sales associate Chris Dunne led to further meetings with Rick Weidman, VVA's Director of Government Relations; Joe Sternburg, VVAF Executive Director; and Marcy Robinson, Brooks Brothers' District Manager. With enthusiastic support from VVA President Tom Corey and VVAF President Randy Barnes, a Veterans Day sale took place at the Chevy Chase Brooks Brothers store with a unique goal that united everyone involved: Rather than just holding another routine holiday sale, the organizers sought to bring a fuller
meaning to Veterans Day.

"It was fantastic," District Manager Robinson said. "We were so excited. When we first came up with the idea, we were brainstorming, thinking about something we wanted to do that was unique, especially coming into the holiday season. When the idea of Veterans Day came up,  we began thinking in terms of giving back to the veterans community."


Mokie Porter first met Chris Dunne in the spring, when she went into Brooks Brothers to buy clothes for her teen-aged son. As she and Dunne worked on outfitting her son, the conversation covered a wide range of subjects. Porter asked if Dunne had been in the military. He hadn't, but his brother, a Marine Corps lieutenant colonel, had served in the Persian Gulf War and was in the Marine Corps Reserve. She mentioned work VVA is doing at Walter Reed Army Hospital, helping returning veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan and their families.

"We talked about the connection between Vietnam veterans and Iraq veterans, the incredible connection between the warriors of two different wars," Porter said. "We talked about how many Vietnam veterans had sons and daughters serving in Iraq and  Afghanistan and the heartfelt, genuine sense of responsibility VVA members feel for the men and women in Iraq and Afghanistan."

Porter returned to the shop over the ensuing months, bringing family members and friends and introducing them to Dunne. A friendship grew. On one of those shopping trips, Dunne told her of the meeting in which the store's management and staff had decided to link their Veterans Day sale to a fundraiser on behalf of veterans.

Dunne, who had worked on several political campaigns, has contacts all over Washington. He was charged with finding out which organizations would be interested in working with Brooks Brothers. He knew people from Walter Reed and the National Institutes of Health shopped at the store, but when Mokie Porter came in, Dunne found the non-profit partner with whom he wanted to work.

"Chris took it and ran with it," Robinson said. "From there, we just had a lot of people who bought into the idea and helped to make it happen."

Dunne encouraged Porter to arrange a meeting with VVA.

"I said, 'Why don't we put this together?' " Dunne said. "It snowballed from there."

VVAF Executive Director Joe Sternburg said it was unusual for a retailer to approach the organization with such an offer.

"I think it was a success because we don't get a lot of people walking through saying, 'Hey, we want to do something on your behalf.' Chris and the district manager felt it would be successful if they hit $25,000 in sales. They hit $31,000.


VVA President Tom Corey found much to admire in Brooks Brothers' effort to make the day more purposeful for all involved.

"I hope we can do something like this every Veterans Day and Memorial Day," he said. "The recognition of those who served and those who serve now is so important to all of us. Brooks Brothers didn't just have a sale. They, in fact, gave back part of their profits. I hope other retailers might do the same."

After approaching Porter about VVA involvement in the Veterans Day event, Dunne met with Weidman and others to work out the details.

"I give Chris Dunne a lot of credit for having the vision to put the veteran back in Veterans Day," Porter said. "It's amazing that Brooks Brothers was willing to take the lead. I couldn't think of a finer store to do that."

Brooks Brothers sent out mailers to its customers. Weidman passed out invitations at the White House. "The response was terrific," Porter said. "It was a great time. It was the best attendance they'd ever had for a special event. It would be great if other national retailers thought about veterans on Veterans Day and gave 10 percent of their take to veterans organizations. That's what I'd like to see happen. If we wait too long, Veterans Day will be lost completely to the domain of commerce and the veteran will be taken out of it. The day will become just another holiday sale, the one you have before Thanksgiving."

Brooks Brothers' Robinson thought the war in Iraq played an important role in the turnout. Pointing out that many family members of the store's sales associates are serving or have served, Robinson said the war was very much on the minds of everyone in Washington.

"There was a lot of discussion about that at the sales event," she said.

Marcy Robinson remains optimistic about future events that she hopes will range much farther than Chevy Chase.

"It was fantastic," she said. "Overall, the feeling we got from the event was that it turned out exactly the way we wanted. It was a first-time, grassroots effort that I hope at some point will expand into something company-wide on a national basis. I haven't spoken with our marketing people about doing something on an expanded basis down the road, but it would be a great thing if we could go national with it."

   

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